Boulder third-grader brings bullets to school, pounds one with rock

A third-grader at Foothill Elementary in Boulder brought a couple of unusual items to school yesterday: two live bullets.

He's still alive, too, even though he pounded one of the bullets with a rock. But is he looking at mandatory punishment under post-Columbine zero-tolerance policies a state panel wants to end?

Here's how Melissa Ribordy, Foothill's principal, described what happened in a letter to the school's parents sent yesterday:

During third grade afternoon recess, a student who had brought two live bullets to school took them out onto the playground. The student managed to separate one of the bullets from its casing by striking it with a rock. While striking the casing, the student set off the primer which made a loud noise. The .22 caliber bullet itself was never fired as it had already separated from the casing.

In response to the sound, a teacher on recess duty hurried over, stat, and the other bullet was retrieved by a staffer shortly thereafter. No one was injured, but Ribordy emphasized that someone could have been.

Even so, Boulder Valley School District spokesman Briggs Gamblin says the incident doesn't fall under the zero-tolerance umbrella. "A bullet is not a weapon, per se," he notes. "So even though it can have tragic consequences, our district's director of discipline tells me individual school districts have a lot more discretion" when it comes to punishment. "They're able to look at the situation, the age of the student, how much judgment was involved, and what was the intent."

In their investigation of the incident, Gamblin says school personnel were able to determine "that there was no intent on the part of the student to hurt anybody. It was more curiosity about bullets on the part of a third-grader."

Gamblin says this determination colored the punishment doled out to the student, which he can't share under federal regulations. But his description of the district's actions sounds very much like the approach advocated by attorney Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, and the juvenile-defense-counsel representative on the task force looking into zero-tolerance policies.

Meanwhile, Gamblin hopes parents convey to their kids that "even though it's a little bullet, a .22, it's still very dangerous. In this case, the bullet fell out of the cartridge, which is more luck than anything else. But we're working with parents to get across that, depending on how it's handled, a bullet can be just as dangerous outside a gun as inside one."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "James Chavez allegedly left loaded gun in 4-year old's backpack, then sent her to kindergarten."